Crumpophonist Irving Freen Debuts His New CD, Aaaarrrggh!

Back in my heyday as a college music student, I had a subscription to Down Beat magazine. I was a Down Beat junkie, and among the things I eagerly looked forward to each month were the record reviews. It has been a long time since I've riffed through a Down Beat, but I just peeked online, and the legendary jazz magazine looks to have successfully made the leap into the digital age and appears to be going strong. Moreover, I'm pleased to see that the recording reviews are still a mainstay for the publication—and why not? With links to Amazon, CD Baby, and iTunes, they ought to pack plenty of marketing muscle. But what happened to the ratings? Looking at these online "Editor's Picks," I don't see the old, familiar five-star system that I knew and loved. Has that gone away, or am I just missing something? Boy, am I out of the loop. Back in the 1980s, every album got a rating of anywhere from zero stars (Translation: "This CD sucks so badly, your room may implode") to five stars ("Transcendent. The artist qualifies for sainthood"). How could I forget? I wrote the following piece years ago as a spoof of a Down Beat review by a hard-bitten jazz critic giving his take on the first album by crumpophone wizard Irving Freen. Rarely does the F# crumpophone attain the splendid heights to which Irving takes it. For that matter, few are those who play the crumpophone or have even heard of it. There are reasons whybut I'll let you find out for yourself. Read on. ---------------------------- CD REVIEW Artist: Irving Freen Album Title: Aaaarrrggh! Rating: ˜˜˜˜˜ Let me say up front that I’m not easily impressed. What passes for jazz today is pabulum to the ears of one suckled on the fiery wine of hard bop, and the current crop of artists has for the most part had little to say that hasn’t been said before and said better. So when I first heard of a young lion by the name of Irving Freen, my gut response was indifference. “Ya gotta hear this guy,” they told me. “He’s incredible!” Yeah, right. “Okay, so let’s hear Mr. Incredible’s CD,” I grunted, yawning politely to conceal my boredom. I changed my attitude as soon as I heard the first cut. Irving Freen is a crumpophone player of the highest order. Of the few who have wrestled with the quirky instrument, Freen is the undisputed king. Flawless technique, awesome creativity, and a haunting tone that reminds me at once of the cry of a curlew and the mating bellow of a bull hippo . . . it’s hard not to wax rhapsodic over this thrilling new artist. Where has he been up till now, I wondered? Well, for one thing, purchasing the space necessary to play the crumpophone. Probably one reason the instrument has had so few practitioners is that most musicians simply can’t afford the acreage. The F# crumpophone humps over approximately two-and-a-half acres of real estate. Toss in scaffolding, a small shed for generators, and a neckstrap, and you’ve got one pricey instrument. And that’s not even counting the eighty-acre buffer zone required by law to keep the neighbors from complaining. Or the manpower involved in getting everything into a gig bag in time for rehearsal. Then there’s the matter of expression. It’s hard to forge a truly compelling voice on an instrument with a range of only half an octave. Freen has conquered this limitation by augmenting his tonal palette with a remarkable series of “found sounds,” ranging from screams and howls that arise spontaneously whenever he gets his lips stuck in the mouthpiece, to assorted bird songs and animal calls provided by numerous sparrows, chipmunks, owls, elk, frogs, space aliens, and other life forms that wander into any of the horn’s nine bells and get lost in the mile-and-a-half of tubing. Freen has also met the technical difficulties of the crumpophone with astonishing ingenuity. The spacing of the keys at thirty-foot intervals has long posed a problem for crumpophone players, who have never been able to improve their technique beyond the speed with which they can sprint from one key to the next. This limitation has made tempos above 4mm impractical and is the reason crumpophonists prefer ballads to bebop. Freen, however, has met and mastered the challenge, paving the way for a new order of crumpophonist. Directing a powerful stream from a fire hose, Freen is able to shift pressure instantly from one key to the next without moving from his position, achieving a dexterity hitherto considered impossible. Not only so, but by using more than one hose, he is able to depress multiple keys, expanding the capabilities of the horn by a breathtaking three notes. Since these notes lie seven octaves above the normal range of the horn, they are unfortunately well beyond the realm of human hearing; however, they do allow the crumpophone to double as a highly effective dog whistle. Well, all this is fine, you say, but can the man play? Do bears eat popes in the woods? Just listen to Irving Freen’s first cut on this album. "Ground Midnight" ought to convince the most skeptical listener that here is a crumpophonist who knows his way around a ballad. Granted, it would be nice to hear a crumpophonist who knows his way through a ballad, instead of sidestepping things like chord changes and well-connected lines. Still, "Ground Midnight" is instructive to anyone who wants to find out just how far a single note held for an entire tune can take the listener into the realms of sheer, soul-dripping expressiveness. Not too far, it turns outnot so far, say, as the sound of a blown tire flapping on the highwaybut still well beyond where other crumpophonists have ever gone. Having demonstrated his way with a ballad, Freen next gives us a taste of his “new music” chops. "Come Out With Your Hands Up!" is an apt name for the foray into frenzy that is cut number two. Here is well-organized pandemonium at its best, as the crumpophonist delves into his seemingly inexhaustible found-sound storehouse. Against a backdrop of swirling bop harmonies, Freen delivers a masterful, almost overwhelming barrage of bent notes, cacophony, screams, animal noises, explosions, machine gun fire . . . all ripping along at the inconceivable tempo of 400 beats per minute and climaxing with an exceptionally effective howitzer bombardment. The sound of rending lumber is a brilliant touch, capturing the poignant moment when Freen’s pole barn is blown to pieces by a cleverly aimed note. The arrival of the police provides a timely and sensitive vocal element. A command barked through a megaphonesubtle, yet crisp and authoritative in the backgroundsuggests the origin of the tune’s title. The shattering-glass effect was achieved by the tasteful introduction of tear gas canisters into the sound mix through the living room window. If I have one complaint, it’s a minor onea slight muddiness to the sound at the precise point where the door is broken down. It kept me from fully enjoying Freen’s ensuing scuffle with the SWAT team before being ultimately dragged away. Still, this is unquestionably a five-star performance, and Freen is to be congratulated as soon as he’s allowed to receive visitors. Incidentally, the above explains the brevity of this CD. Fifteen minutes is admittedly not standard album length, and for that reason some may balk at the price. The truly discriminating, however, will consider $29.99 a trifling sacrifice to pay for a taste of crumpophonery at its finest. Those who like their jazz served hot with adrenaline will look forward to the next offering from this young firebrand. Don’t hold your breath, thoughI’ve a hunch it won’t be coming any time soon.    

Mini-Tornadoes: Defining a Microscale Mystery

In Europe they have mini-tornadoes. There was a time in my callow, formative years as a storm chaser when I was unaware that there was such a thing, but one learns. Besides, even veteran American chasers could make the same mistake as I, and probably have done so many times. From the reports, photos, and videos I've seen, a mini-tornado so closely resembles a standard-issue tornado in appearance and effect that here in the United States, most chasers would find it impossible to tell the difference. However, Europeans--newscasters and reporters in particular, who are largely responsible for disseminating the mini-terminology--are more discriminating and not easily impressed. In Europe, it seems that anything less than a Great Plains-style wedge isn't considered a full-fledged tornado. Not that wedges are a common occurrence across the pond. The perspective I've described appears to be based not on great familiarity with tornadoes, but rather, on a paucity of experience with them other than what is gleaned through viewing videos of the mile-wide monsters that stalk the American prairies. Now those are tornadoes! Compared to them, a trifling, block-wide vortex is ... eh. Small change. Plenty of U.S. chasers would take exception. The problem is, no mini-tornado criteria have been established that could provide a basis for arguing that probably 99.9 percent of mini-tornadoes are simply tornadoes. Not that at least one attempt hasn't been made to provide such criteria. Back in 2006, in a thread on Stormtrack, I myself presented a plausible set of determinants for mini-tornadoes, complete with a damage-rating scale, and I'm surprised that the NWS never adopted it. Follow my logic and you'll see for yourself that true mini-tornadoes are a phenomenon few Europeans, let alone Americans, ever encounter. Mini-Tornado Criteria A true mini-tornado must meet the following standards: . •  It is five feet tall or less. Of course, this implies an extremely low cloud base. You'd have to squat in order to get a decent photo. •  Width: Two feet or less. •  Human response: You feel a strong urge to say, "Awww, ain't that cute!" You want to pet it and maybe even take it home with you and give it a nice bowl of debris. •  The synoptic conditions can be contained within five city blocks. •  Overshooting tops can be viewed from above by taking an elevator to the ninth floor. •  Damage (introducing the M Scale):
  • M0: Damage?
  • M1: No noticeable damage.
  • M2: No, there's no stinking damage. Now go away.
  • M3: Okay, some damage now. Card houses knocked over unless securely glued together. Hair ruffled. That sort of thing.
  • M4: Now we're talking damage. Well-built card houses scattered into a lawn-size version of 52-Card Pickup. Ill-fitting toupes snatched away. Nasty things happen when you spit into the wind.
  • M5: Inconceivable inconvenience. Securely glued card houses swept entirely away and lofted across the lawn. Well-gelled hair twisted into impressive new designs. You want to get out of the way of this baby.
I hope this helps. Of course, according to these criteria, I suppose the UK has yet to experience a true mini-tornado. Someone should probably inform the press. And none of us should hold our breaths waiting for such an occurrence, because, truth be told, mini-tornadoes are extremely rare. But not utterly non-existent. The late, talented storm chaser Andy Gabrielson managed to capture on video his personal encounter with a good mini-tornado candidate on May 24, 2010, in South Dakota.* Check out his YouTube video at 1:56, and like me, you too can say to yourself, "What the heck was that?" --------------- * The footage up to 1:56 is not a mini-tornado.

A View from the Air

I initially posted the following humorous piece without any preamble. It subsequently dawned on me that a brief introduction could serve one important purpose: preventing anyone from taking me seriously. The following is strictly fictitious and by no means a true account. The real Bill is indeed a wildman, and I've got my own crazy streak, but neither of us is quite as nuts as our fictional alter-egos. With that understanding established, I present ... .

A View from the Air

Copyright ©2012 by Robert M. Hartig . “Look at those clouds!” said Bill. “You just don’t see that kind of structure from the ground. Chasing storms this high up gives you a whole new perspective.” “Hmmph,” I grunted. He was right, but I was in no mood to agree. “See how tiny those farms down there look? What an incredible view!” I had my own opinion of the view. I felt irritable, and the growing symptoms of airsickness weren’t helping. But Bill was enjoying himself, so I kept my thoughts to myself. The use of airplanes has recently added a novel wrinkle to storm chasing. After viewing Skip Talbot and Caleb Elliott’s stunning videos of supercells shot from a private plane, Bill and I decided to try our own hand at aerial chasing. So now here we were east of Wichita, circling a storm. Thus does what begins as a half-formed thought escalate into a full-blown idiocy. A sudden bout of turbulence jolted us. Our fragile craft rose and fell fifty feet in a single second, and my stomach lodged one more protest in an expanding series. The complaints were rapidly approaching the danger level. What would happen once that level got breached was not pleasant to contemplate. It would be great wisdom to avoid such an eventuality. But wisdom hadn’t gotten us up here to begin with, and it couldn’t be counted on to show up now. The plane had been my idea, which is strange considering I’m normally more cautious than Bill. Our storm chasing partnership spans the better part of two decades, long enough to establish Bill as a maniac and me as a maiden aunt. The combination has worked well and sparked some memorable moments. Tactical conversations between Bill and me typically go like this:

Me: What a monster tornado! It’s going to pass within a quarter mile. That sucker could drop a satellite vortex right on top of us. We need to move. Bill: Yeah, let’s get closer.

Bill: Wall cloud. Me: Where? Bill: Right above us, rotating like crazy. Me: Oh. Bill: [Pulls over and parks the car.]

Bill: We’ll just take this shortcut west straight toward the meso and beat it to the main road by at least thirty seconds. Me: Are you serious? This is little more than a two-track of wet Kansas clay. We get stuck here and we’ll get eaten. Bill: Trust me. I’ve got four-wheel-drive, I’m doing sixty miles an hour to maintain momentum, and I’m consulting the map as I drive to spare you the stress of discovering that this road doesn’t even show on Street Atlas. You’ve got—whoops, almost hit that gully—absolutely nothing to fear. Me: Let me know when I can open my eyes.

Me: We were too close. Bill: I agree. Me: You do? You’re kidding. Let me feel your forehead. Hmmm … nope, you’re not running a fever. Bill: Stuff the sarcasm. Now let’s get out of this ditch and see if we can find my car. It can’t have blown far.

You get the picture: just the normal banter between two chasers. Occasionally, though, circumstances get intense. Which brings me back to my story. After talking it over, Bill and I hit upon a plan for an airborne chase. It was simple and elegant. We would watch the forecast models for a strong storm system to show up, one that displayed good potential for producing classic, well-structured supercells. Then, assuming that the system firmed up as the forecast hours narrowed down, we would locate a private pilot in our target area who was willing to fly us within proximity of a tornado, and we would book several hours with him or her. Our main concern would be to find someone capable of making cool, level-headed decisions in the face of extreme flying conditions, a requirement complicated by the fact that any pilot willing to assist us would necessarily be insane. An adequate storm system presented itself in due course. More than adequate, in fact. A potent trough promised to dig down into the plains, and with it, the kind of conditions that storm chasers drool over. Three days out, the Storm Prediction Center had already outlooked a moderate risk for much of Kansas. It was time for Bill and me to hunt up our pilot. You'd be surprised how hard it is to find someone willing to do fly-bys of a tornadic supercell with hundred-mile-an-hour updrafts and downdrafts and baseball-size hail that can shred a small plane in seconds. We’d almost given up when Bill found a private charter service that would take us on. “The name Lunatic Larry’s Aerial Antics makes me a bit nervous,” I said. “I know. The company motto bothers me. ‘No One’s Died Yet’ just doesn’t inspire confidence. But we don’t have any choice.” “I wonder if our boy is on drugs.” “I asked him about that,” Bill replied. “He said, ‘Hell yes.’” “That’s good,” I said. “At least he’s properly medicated.” . Two days later we were in Bill’s Subaru, headed southeast down I-35 on the home stretch toward Lunatic Larry’s hangar just outside Wichita. We were to meet Larry promptly at 6:00. Just to our west, though, storms were already exploding. “Look, there’s a wall cloud,” Bill said. “Hey—tornado!” “Not very far away, either,” I said. “It’ll pass just a couple miles to our north.” We looked at each other. It was only a few minutes after five o’clock. We had time. “Let’s get it,” I said. By the time we drew within a mile of it, the tornado had grown into a good, solid stovepipe. I glanced upward. We were at the edge of the meso. It looked low, turbulent, and entirely untrustworthy. “Careful, Bill,” I said. “We could get a spin-up anywhere in there.” “I know, buddy. I just want to get a little closer, get a good look at this thing.” “Okay. Just don’t get too close.” “Trust the old pro. I know what I’m doing.” I rolled my eyes. Here it comes, I thought. Once the Old Pro surfaces, it’s useless to say more. “Fine. Bear in mind that Lunatic Larry keeps our deposit if you get us killed.” We drew closer to the tornado, which was chewing through a forest and throwing trees hundreds of feet up into the air. By and by I said, “I think we’re too close.” “Nah, we’re okay,” said Bill. “We can get closer.” A tree flew by in front of us. “Then again, this is probably close enough.” “Good,” I said, striving to unclench my teeth. “I applaud your restraint.” “Thank you,” Bill replied, smiling modestly. “I would even advocate for backing up a smidge,” I added with a relaxed, cheerful grimace. “Better for viewing storm structure.” A cow tumbled past the windshield with a startled look on its face, mooing above the wind roar. “Okay,” the Old Pro said. Shifting the Subaru into reverse, he backed up ten feet. This was crazy. I had to think of something quickly or we'd both wind up in pine boxes with little anemometers attached to them, turning gently while an organ played in the background. "Great Scott!” I cried. “Look at the time! We’re supposed to meet Lunatic Larry in ten minutes. These storms are just getting started. There’ll be more tornadoes. We need to drop this one and get our butts to the airport.” “Nuts, you’re right,” said Bill. “We have to go.” Turning the vehicle around, he headed back south toward the highway. . Half an hour later, as we soared high above the landscape just below the cloud base, Bill said, “You have to admit, the view up here is spectacular. See down there, those other chasers on the roads way down below? Ha! I’ll bet they’d give their right arms to trade places with us right now!” “You had to do it, didn’t you,” I replied, peevishly. “You had to make just one more pass at that stupid tornado before we headed to the airport.” “Hey, how was I to know it was going to wedge out on us? Besides, look where we are now. Didn’t I tell you to trust the old pro?” He had a point. Actually, the view from a Subaru at 900 feet is pretty decent, probably every bit as good as it would have been from Lunatic Larry’s airplane. Maybe even better. Even a lunatic wouldn’t have gotten us this close. “It sure is a long-track tornado,” I said as we completed another circuit around the funnel. “You got the live-stream running?” “You bet. Over ten thousand viewers, last I looked.” “Good. That’ll help cover expenses. Maybe even hospital bills after we land. I guess we can kiss our deposit with Larry good-bye.”

Things a Jazz Musician Never Hears Anyone Say

You see this? It's a rare phenomenon in Michigan called "rain" (pronounced rayn). It began yesterday as a closed 500 mb low settled in over the state, and it looks like it will be with us for a while, as the low seems content to linger. You can see a hint of cyclonic swirl on the radar. And that's not all: as I write, just a quarter past noon, the KGRR station ob shows a temperature of only 57 degrees. After a heat wave that has stretched from June into early August, with temperatures in Michigan exceeding the 100-degree mark at times, suddenly it looks and feels like autumn. Yesterday I traded my shorts for blue jeans. Even during a normal summer, that rarely happens. After a historic, severe drought that has mummified Michigan and crippled much of our nation, this steady rain and respite from the heat is beyond welcome. It is a godsend, and those of us who believe in God thank him for it. "He sends his rain on the just and the unjust"--and to the just and the unjust alike, it is a great beneficence. Next week there's the possibility of a trough digging down from Canada across the northern-tier states, with jet energy bringing the potential for severe weather in the Great Lakes sometime Wednesday and/or Thursday. But that's far from certain at the moment. The GFS has painted some wildly varying scenarios, and the most I can see right now is that both it and the ECMWF agree on troughing, with the Euro painting the more potent picture. Okay, enough of the weather. Let's talk about music. A while ago, I posted a status update on Facebook that struck me as pretty funny. I have a great appreciation for my own sense of humor, which is a good thing because it means that I have at least one fan. What I hate is when I tell a really hilarious joke and then I don't get it. Then I have to explain the punch-line to myself, and that just ruins it. Fortunately, that doesn't happen often. Most of the time, I break out into spasms of laughter, and people look at me oddly, and ... getting back to my Facebook post: I figured that I'd share it here and then add onto it whenever I feel inclined. Feel free to post your own additions in the comments section. Without further ado, here are ...

Things which, as a jazz musician, I have yet to hear someone say:

. "Could you turn up the volume? You're not loud enough." "For our first dance, we want you to play 'Giant Steps.'" "You want $100 per musician to play at my club? Is that all? I'm doubling your rate. It's about time you musicians gave yourselves a cost-of-living raise." "First tahm playin' hyeer at the Eyegouge Saloon, eh? Well, I hope yew boys play a lot of Ornette Coleman. Folks hyeer get mighty disturbed if'n they don't get their Ornette. And another thang: do NOT, if yew value yer life, play 'Free Bird.'" "I know we're an all-white church praise team with three guitars, but we only like playing in the flat keys." "What t'hell you mean, you don't have a trombone player? How can a jazz band not have a trombone? Tell you what: you come back next week with a trombone player and I'll shell out an extra hunnerd-fifty bucks."

A Session with the Doc

This storm season of 2012 started with a bang but then rapidly fizzled into a pathetic whimper. Now summer is here, and with the mid-levels heating up and dewpoint depressions widening to the point where one needs binoculars in order to see the cloud bases, I'm sensing the onset of Supercell Deficiency Syndrome (SDS). I hate that feeling. Half the time I want to curl up in a dark corner like a giant pillbug of despair, and the other half, I want to go out and beat the tar out of the first stupid simile I encounter and then run naked through a funeral parlor. SDS is not a pretty thing, and mine does not improve as I get older. So this year I've decided to meet the malady at its onset with aggressive therapy. Today I had my first session. As you can see from the following transcript, it went beautifully. --------------- Psychiatrist: Okay, Bob, I'm going to show you a series of images, and I want you to tell me what each of them reminds you of. Me: A tornado. Ps: All of them collectively remind you of a tornado? How do you know? You haven't seen any of them yet. Me: Nevertheless, they remind me of a tornado. Ps: All of them? Me: Try me. Ps: <Hrrummph!> ... Very well, let's proceed. [Shows me a large black blob on a sheet of white paper.] What does this look like to you? Me: A tornado. Didn't I tell you? A niiiiice condensation funnel lowering into the middle of a great big grassland, with really cool suction vortices swirling around its periphery and... Ps: Yes, yes, that will be fine, Bob. Now what about this image? [Shows me another blob. I don't know why he's asking. This one is clearly...] Me: Wow! AWESOME wedge! Where was that? Is that Manchester? Man, I wish I'd been there! Ps: Most of my clients see a butterfly. Me: Yeah, well, most of your clients are several boogers shy of a sneeze. Dang, what a monster! Ps: [Arching one eyebrow and chuffing thoughtfully on his pipe.] This promises to be an interesting session. [Shows me yet another blob.] Don't tell me you see a tornado in this too? Me: Stovepipe. Plus some really nice structure, very impressive. That is one wild-looking tail cloud! Where are you getting this stuff from, anyway? Hey, wait a minute ... that looks like one of Mike Hollingshead's shots from Hill City. I hope you got his permission. Ps: I don't know who Mike Hollingshead is, and this is not a photograph. It's a Rorschach inkblot, and I don't understand how you're seeing so much detail in it. Me: [Chuckling.] I've made it my business to notice the details, Doc. For instance, looking at this next image, which is clearly a nice elephant's trunk, I can see a clear slot wrapping nearly all the way around the funnel. The tornado is in the process of occluding--see how it's tilting? Ps: [Leaning in for a closer look.] I'm trying. Hmmm ... yeah, I think so. Kind of. Me: It's getting set to rope out. Another minute or two and it'll be gone--and meanwhile, keep your eyes peeled for another circulation to start forming right about where--hmmm ... Ps: What? Me: We're in kind of a bad location, Doc. I think we need to reposition. Ps: Bob, we're in my office and it's a beautiful day outside. There's absolutely nothing to worry about. Me: But ... Ps: Now, what do you see in this next image? Me: Looks like the same storm, only a couple minutes later. The edge of the meso is right overhead and a cone is starting to drop. Doc, I really think we should ... Ps: [Smiling at me sagely. I hate it when people smile at me sagely.] Bob, trust me, we're fine right where we are. Repeat after me: "I am not out in the field chasing storms. I am in my therapist's office. There is no storm. I am perfectly safe." Me: There is no storm. I am perfectly safe. But Doc ... Ps: Perfectly safe, Bob. Just tell yourself that. You need to replace your negative self-talk with positive affirmations. Now, let's take a look at this next ... hey, what happened to the sunlight? All of a sudden it's pitch black outside. [The sound of a mighty wind swells up out of nowhere, rapidly intensifying to a deafening roar. The windows shatter. One wall rips away, revealing a millrace of debris blasting through the street. A cow flies across the room and a combine crashes through the ceiling, landing directly in front of Doc's desk. A playful little vortex finger snatches away his toupee. Then, just like that, the pandemonium ceases and all is still except for the clatter of errant pieces of lumber falling to earth. Doc is still sitting in his chair, wrapped around with pink insulation. His eyeglasses are crooked, his pipe has been replaced with a large cigar, and there is a wild look on his face.] Ps: What the hell ... what the bloody hell?!! Me: I tried to tell you. Ps: But ... but ... Me: Doc, this has been a great session! I can't tell you how much better I feel already. I never thought that just a few minutes with you could make such a difference. Ps: But ... Me: You, sir, are a genius, that's all. A genius! I hope we can have lots more sessions just like this one. Ps: *%@#!!!! Me: Could you repeat that for me, Doc? I want to write it down--it's pithy and I'm sure it's valuable. Wait, never mind, I recorded our whole session so I can review it later. Well, time's up and I've got to get to another appointment. I'll just clamber over the remnants of your office and be on my way. But I'm going to call and schedule another session with you as soon as you've got your clinic rebuilt. Good luck with that, by the way. Yeesh, what a mess! -------------------- That was just a few hours ago. I felt so depressed when I walked into my session with the doc, but now I feel great! It's amazing what a good therapist can accomplish in just a single visit, and I can hardly wait for my next appointment. I have a hunch, though, that it may not be for a while.

Dixieland for Cows

Till now, I thought for sure that I was the only jazz musician in the world who has played for a cow audience. And maybe I was until these guys, like me, discovered what fine, appreciative listeners cows are. I have to admit, I can't top this act. What a stitch! And some great Dixieland music, too. Thanks to my friend Bill Karlsson for sending me the link.

My July 27 Michigan Tornado Video, for What It’s Worth

Michigan is not Oklahoma. It is not even Illinois. If you're a storm chaser who has any life experience with this state, as a few of you do besides me, you know exactly what I mean. Had Dorothy and Toto lived here instead of in Kansas, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz would never have been written. That or else author L. Frank Baum would have had to find a dfferent means of lofting his main character and her little dog somewhere over the rainbow. Sure, Michigan gets its annual tally of tornadoes. It's just that most of them are something less than what you'll encounter west of the Mississippi or down south in Dixie Alley. That's not a bad thing, given our population density. But it does require Michigan-based chasers to either travel long distances out of state or else languish from convective malnutrition. You want to see a Michigan tornado? Okay, I'll show you a Michigan tornado. But be forewarned, it's not a pretty sight. It's barely any kind of a sight at all. When I first spotted it, I wasn't even certain it was a tornado, though after reviewing my HD clip and getting a couple of other reliable opinions, I'm now convinced. Good thing, too, because it's all I've got to show for this year in terms of actually seeing a tornado. That's pretty pathetic, considering the chase opportunities that circum 2011 has presented. But you can't chase when your 85-year-old mother is having a knee replacement, as mine did on April 27, the day of the 2011 Super Outbreak; or when you just don't have the money to go gallivanting freely across Tornado Alley, a reality that has badly limited me this year. Given such circumstances, you grab what you can, where you can, when you can. July 27 was an example. Although a light risk tapped on the very westernmost edge of Michigan, my state was for the most part outlooked for nothing more than general thunderstorms. Severe weather wasn't a concern. So imagine my surprise when I spotted distinct rotation on GR3 in a cell just to my southwest, heading ESE toward Hastings. Grabbing my gear, I hopped in my car and headed east, setting up my laptop on the way. And what do you know! The radar didn't lie. The storm had a large, well-defined wall cloud that I caught up with as I approached Hastings on State Road. Since my video clip doesn't show much in the way of structure, let me assure those of you who care about such things that this storm had good visual clues: impressive wall cloud, crisp updraft tower, and a warm RFD cascading off the back end. As I've already mentioned, storm motion was ESE, which corroborates my recollection of a northwest flow regime and explains why the rotation was more on the northwest part of the cell than the southwest. Also, as I recall, surface winds were from the SSW, though I can't say how they were behaving ahead of the updraft area as I never managed to outpace the storm. With all that said, here's what happens in the video: Heading south behind the storm, I first spot the tornado out of my side window, which is covered with raindrops. Those somewhat obscure the funnel, but you can still make it out as a small, faint, whitish blotch connecting the cloud base to the treeline a little ways to the right of center. At this point I'm debating with myself and conclude that the feature is just scud. I park the car, zoom in on the storm and lose focus, then roll down the window and zoom back out. You'll then see a small sapling mid-screen, and the tornado still barely visible to its right as a tiny strand of light gray condensation set against the darker background. It, translates almost imperceptibly to the right for a handful of seconds before vanishing. In my HD clip, I can make out something of an actual rope-out, but you can't tell with YouTube. Nevertheless, even though YouTube isn't great for detail, I think you'll see what I'm talking about overall. I promise you, it's there; you just have to look closely. And use your imagination. And be highly suggestible. And believe in the Tooth Fairy. (I've also got some clips of Sasquatch and the Loch Ness monster that you may take an interest in, but those are for another time.) The tornado doesn't appear in the day's storm reports, and I don't believe the supercell that produced it ever got severe-warned. I think I was the only chaser on the darn thing, at least from my side of the state. I did report the wall cloud to GRR. I never bothered with the tornado because it was there and gone before I'd made up my mind what it was. It certainly was an anemic little puke, and I'm not sure whether to feel grateful that I scored at least one tube this year or to feel mortified about even claiming it. I almost felt sorry for the poor thing, and if I could have, I'd have taken it home and cared for it until it was healthy, and then released it under some nice, beefy updraft tower while strains of "Born Free" played in the background. Go ahead and laugh, but I'm probably the only chaser in Michigan who got video of this tornado. Then again, that's nothing to brag about, particularly in a year when so many chasers have captured videos of violent, mile-wide monsters. It's just, like I said, all I've got to show. Yeah, I was there with my buddies right by the airport when the April 22 Saint Louis tornado hit, but none of us actually saw a funnel. I doubt anyone did after dark in all that rain. So July 27 is it for me, my sole visual record. Mine, all mine. Bob's tornado. I've assigned it an F6 on the original Fujita scale, F6 being a hypothetical rating associated with "inconceivable damage." That description fits perfectly, as this tornado was practically hypothetical, and it's inconceivable to me that it could have damaged much of anything. Maybe snatched up an ill-fitting toupee, but that's about it. So there you have it: a genuine Michigan tornado. Now you know what storm chasing is like here in my state. It's just another of the great perks that this supercell haven has to offer besides its economy. I will say this: we do have fantastic craft beer.

The Smart Shopper’s Guide to Swan Meat, Revisited

Evidently a lot of you Stormhorn readers are swan meat junkies. I had no idea, but judging by the continuing traffic to an article I posted back in February, 2010, I don't know what else to conclude. I wrote The Smart Shopper's Guide to Swan Meat as a tongue-in-cheek means of processing my sticker shock after discovering that 1) you can purchase swan for consumption online, and 2) it'll cost you a heckuva lot--no, make that an unbelievable lot--of money. I don't know what first inspired me to investigate this question of swan meat availability and pricing. It's not like I've harbored a longstanding craving for the stuff, and after doing the pricing research, my impulse to purchase swan meat has, if anything, declined to the point of being impossible to detect by the most powerful microscope. So I'm fascinated by the fact that one-and-a-half years after I wrote it, my quirky post on swan meat continues to draw a small but steady stream of readers. The article has nothing whatever to do with either jazz saxophone or storm chasing, which are the foci of this blog. Yet it's one of the more popular pieces of writing I've ever done. Which is why I'm resubmitting it for your consumption--that is to say, your edification. How edified you'll actually be after reading it is questionable, but you'll at least be in a better position to determine whether that massive hankering you've been feeling for blackneck swan is feasible in the light of your food budget. In any event, here, in case you missed it three paragraphs back, is the link to the original article. I should mention that the pricing I had mentioned for 1-800-STEAKS remains accurate. However, while the link to the Exotic Meat Market still works, I no longer see swan meat among their impressive list of offerings. Given their pricing compared to the competition, swan was clearly a loss leader that outlived its usefulness. Now, if you've got a few extra bucks to spend and would like to treat yourself to something that's a step up from swannish pauper's fare, you might consider adding Kobe beef to this week's shopping cart. As for me, hamburger sounds fine.

Grasshopper Passion Revisited

Editing away with beaverish industriousness on a video interview I hope to post soon on this blog, I haven't had time to mess with much of anything else. So heck, why not dig into my several years of archives and ... why, here's something right here that ought to grab your fancy. Yes, and shame on you, advance shame, for soiling your mind with such sordid, XXX-rated fare! That's right: Gleaned from the days of's former, raw crudity, here is a post calculated to quicken your pulse with a GRAPHIC PHOTO OF NAKED BODIES JOINED IN FRENZIED PLEASURE!!! Or not-so-frenzied. Actually, we could probably dispense with the triple exclamation marks and the all capitals. Let your own conscience be the judge is you read about ... Grasshopper Passion.

The Giant Steps Scratch Pad: As Crass a Plug as You’ll Ever Encounter Anywhere

BUY MY BOOK! BUY MY BOOK! BUY MY BOOK! BUY MY BOOK! BUY MY BOOK! Never mind the rest of the gobbledegook on this page--just go to the bottom and start clicking on shopping carts. As for you less impulsive types: Gosh, I hope I'm not being too forward. In real life, I'm the retiring, wallflower type who would never think of grabbing you by the lapels and shaking you wildly about while protruding my eyeballs at you and screaming, "BUY MY BOOK!" Never. The marketing methods I use to get you to buy The Giant Steps Scratch Pad--available in C, Bb, Eb, and bass clef editions--are far more subtle. I prefer to drop discrete hints, such as sending out glossy, full-color mailers that say things like, "This Father's Day, give Dad the gift that says 'I love you!' Give him The Giant Steps Scratch Pad." Low-key is best, that's what I say. Ummm...did you get the mailer? Well, no matter, because here is your reminder that now is the perfect time to get Dad, or Mom, or your Aunt Bronte who plays the crumpophone, or maybe even your little old self, a copy of the Scratch Pad. Why is now so perfect a time? Because now is such a totally in-the-moment time, and jazz improvisation is such an in-the-moment art form, and Coltrane changes typically fly by at such an in-the-moment, near-light speed, that, overlooking the utter pointlessness of everything I've just written, you really should cough up $9.50 and BUY MY BOOK. Do it. Not only will you be keeping a starving artist in Ramen for a week, but--seriously now--you will also be getting a truly unique and valuable practice companion for jazz improvisers. If you've ever wanted to master Coltrane changes, this book will do the trick. To the best of my knowledge, it's the first practical, hands-on resource for jazz instrumentalists of every kind that helps you develop the technique to play Giant Steps changes. You can find plenty of material on Coltrane's theory, but very little that you can actually wrap your fingers around in the woodshed.* The Giant Steps Scratch Pad fills that gap, taking you beyond theory to application. Here's what you get:
  • * A brief overview of “Giant Steps” theory
  • * Insights and tips for using this book as a practice companion
  • * 155 licks and patterns divided into two parts to help you cultivate facility in both the A and B sections of “Giant Steps”
  • * 2 pages of licks using the augmented scale--the "universal scale" for Coltrane changes
Click on the image to your left to view a printable page sample from the Bb edition (for tenor sax, soprano sax, trumpet, and clarinet). Print it out, take it with you to your next practice session, and get a feel for what the Scratch Pad has to offer. Each line takes you through the first four bars of Giant Steps changes. Transpose the pattern down a major third for the second four bars. AVAILABLE IN C, Bb, Eb, AND BASS CLEF EDITIONS, AND BOTH IN PRINT AND AS A PDF DOWNLOAD. 32 PAGES. Instant PDF download, $9.50 C edition Add to Cart Bb edition Add to Cart Eb edition Add to Cart Bass clef edition Add to Cart View Cart Print editions--retail quality with full-color cover, $10.95 plus shipping: order here.
PRAISE FOR THE GIANT STEPS SCRATCH PAD "Ever since John Coltrane recorded 'Giant Steps,' its chord progression has been a rite of passage for aspiring improvisers. Bob's book The Giant Steps Scratch Pad presents a practical approach to Coltrane changes that will challenge advanced players and provide fundamental material for those just beginning to tackle the challenge of Giant Steps.'” --Ric Troll, composer, multi-instrumentalist, owner of Tallmadge Mill Studios "In this volume, Bob has created an excellent new tool for learning how to navigate the harmonies of 'Giant Steps.' This is a hands-on, practical approach with a wealth of great material that will be of assistance to students of jazz at all levels of development." --Kurt Ellenberger, composer, pianist, jazz educator and author of Materials and Concepts in Jazz Improvisation
------------------------------- * Unless you're a guitarist. For some reason, I've found a modest offering of good, practical material available for guitar players. You'd think that tenor sax players would be the prime audience for lit on Coltrane changes, but not so. Guitarists are the torch bearers. Sheesh. You string pickers have all the luck.